The long-awaited duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene happened for the first time this season -- twice -- in the same game. And by any objective measure, it was a disaster and hammered home why the Wizards were wise to convert to a pace-and-space style of play.
In Monday's 108-98 loss, with Otto Porter, Drew Gooden and Otto Porter still out (and they will miss Wednesday's game vs. the Miami Heat), coach Randy Wittman had to try something to spark his team that was struggling from double-digit deficits in both halves.
"Who else do I have? I don’t have any other options right now," Wittman said. "So we got to make due. That’s not an excuse, I’m not making an excuse. We’ve played like this before.”
In Gortat's first two seasons here, beginning in 2013-14 when he was traded from the Phoenix Suns, he started at center next to Nene at power forward. But starting with last season's playoffs, because of Porter's emergence, the Wizards went to smaller lineups and came within a broken wrist for John Wall from the conference finals.
Meyers Leonard, a 7-1 center, made 4 of 7 three point shots for the Portland Trail Blazers in Monday's 108-98 loss win vs. the Wizards. C.J. Miles, who was matched up with Humphries, made 8 of 9 threes for the Indiana Pacers in a Nov. 24 win over the Wizards. When the Wizards go big, too many teams in the NBA can deploy shooters and get wide-open looks. Even if they miss, they pull the big away from the basket to negate the rebounding.
Nene and Gortat were together from 5:38 of the first quarter to 1:42. The Wizards went from being down 13 to a 22-12 deficit. In the third quarter, it was from 7:54 to 3:59. The Wizards went from a seven-point deficit to trailing 84-65.
The spacing isn't there. The passing lanes, which allowed the four dump-offs to Gortat for layups from Jared Dudley because he stretches the floor with his three-point range, disappear.
Gortat began the game shooting 6-for-8 from the field as a result. He couldn't attempt a shot in the third quarter.
Nene and Gortat are extremely valuable in their unique ways. Gortat gives the Wizards a viable pick-and-roll big who can get to the basket, and it also makes the defense respect potential drops to him which can open up shooters. Nene is a back-to-the basket option who is best suited as Gortat's backup, who defensively takes the Wizards to another level when he's not tasked with having to chase smaller, faster players 22 feet away from the rim.
Separating them to maximize them was the right move and the new offense, which allows the likes of Garrett Temple and Porter to take the ball off the rim, push the tempo in the open court and not rely on Wall to do everything. Generally, scoring isn't a problem for the Wizards. It's what goes on at the other end.
"It's one time," Gortat said of going bigger with him and Nene. "It doesn't matter who put (Monday) on the court because we probably still get beat because these guys were making shots."
On rare occasions (and maybe this spate of injuries is an exception to the rule) should the Wizards roll back the clock, if ever again. If the opponent has a stretch four or spread five to expose them, it doesn't put Nene or Gortat in the best position to succeed.